By Maria Saporta
The Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Georgia welcomed its newest star to town.
Alex Meruelo, president and CEO of Meruelo Enterprises, has reached an agreement to buy the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena.
If the sale is approved by the National Basketball Association, Meruelo would become the first Hispanic majority owner of a NBA team.
At a reception Wednesday evening at the Buckhead Club, top Latin business leaders got an opportunity to visit one-on-one with Meruelo, whose diversified investment holding company based in Southern California.
“To me, it is really a true privilege and an honor to welcome me here,” Meruelo said, adding that it was extra special that Hispanic leaders put together the reception. “The short time I’ve been here in Atlanta, your Southern hospitality is so warm. You feel that right away. I don’t feel that in other cities.”
Meruelo also pledged to “do my best to represent this community very well.”
It was a busy day for Meruelo. He met with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who was just as interested in Meruelo’s business investments as he was in the Atlanta Hawks.
The Meruelo Group already has a distribution center in Georgia, but Deal was trying to sell the state for future investment.
“He was very nice and very excited to have us as part of this community,” Meruelo said of his meeting with Deal. “He was very encouraging to get us to bring more business to Georgia.”
Meruelo’s holdings include commercial and residential real estate, property management, real estate development, construction and banking. He also established La Pizza Loca, a fast food pizza restaurant, in1986. It now has more than 50 franchised and company-owned restaurants serving the Latino communities in Southern California.
While in Atlanta, Meruelo spent several hours at the Coca-Cola Co., being hosted by Rudy Beserra, vice president of Latin affairs at the Coca-Cola Co. who is also chair of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Georgia.
Accompanying Meruelo on the Atlanta trip was Xavier Gutierrez, president and chief investment officer of Meruelo Capital Partners; and Luis Armona, vice president of the Meruelo Group and co-founder of Merona Construction and Merona Enterprises.
At the reception, Meruelo also was able to visit with one of Atlanta’s leading Latin American businessmen, René Diaz, founder of Diaz Foods. Not surprisingly, several members of the management group of the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena also came, including Bob Williams, who is president of both organizations.
After the reception, Meruelo was going to have dinner with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed while his wife was going to tour neighborhoods as the Meruelos try to decide where they want to live when they’re visiting Atlanta.
As Meruelo said: “We are trying to see and touch as many people as we can in the community.”